We once had a summer house near Dieppe, on the Normandy coast, and ever since I have loved mussels. Saffron is a natural partner for fish, and colors this fragrant stew a glowing orange-gold. Clams can be substituted for mussels, but allow more time for them to open over the heat as their shells are thicker.

Serves 4

  • 500ml/16fl oz/2 cups dry white wine
  • 6 shallots, peeled and chopped
  • big pinch of saffron threads
  • 1.35kg/3lb/3 quarts mussels, washed
  • 500ml/16fl oz/2 cups light cream
  • bunch of chervil or Italian parsley (about 55g/2oz), chopped
  • salt and pepper

Soup pot or large saucepan

1. Put the wine and shallots in the soup pot and stir in the saffron. Cover and simmer 2 minutes. Rinse the mussels under cold running water and pull off the “beards” with a small knife. Discard any open shells that do not close when tapped on the counter. Stir the mussels into the soup pot, cover and continue cooking just until the shells open, 4-5 minutes, stirring once or twice. Note that if overcooked, the mussels will be tough.

2. Remove the mussels with a slotted spoon and discard any that have not opened. Pour the cooking liquid into a bowl, leaving grit behind. Wipe out the pot, pour the cooking liquid back, and stir in the cream and chervil or parsley. Simmer 1-2 minutes, taste and adjust the seasoning — salt may not be needed. Stir the mussels into the liquid, heat gently l minute, and spoon the mussels and liquid into large bowls. Serve them at once, very hot, with bowls on the side for discarded shells.

Getting Ahead: Wash the mussels up to an hour ahead, but cook them just before serving.

On the Side: Baguette or Cracked Wheat Bread for soaking up the fragrant cooking juices.

In the Glass: A dry white Sauvignon Blanc, or a Muscadet.

From Good Food No Fuss by Anne Willan, 2003
Photo CREDIT: Simon Wheeler